Written by Ram Smaran Suresh

This summer, we witnessed quite a stir within the SNU community. In fact, it was an issue so serious, that it kindled the interests of several self-proclaimed meme makers out on social media. The proposed mess policy gained so much popularity purely because it affected each and every student of the university in a massive way. It was pleasing to see a culture of discussion prevail on the back of the decision, rather than impetuous hostility towards it. Thankfully, there was a consensus that was reached in the end. Although some are a tad unhappy that the old system isn’t being reinstated completely, it is a good sign that the voices of students aren’t reverberating upon deaf ears.

05/07/2017: The issue started to trend soon after the mail from the President, which gave us an insight into the situation. It was reassuring to see the Student Council taking initiative to keep the students informed, and articulate unequivocally its stand to the administration. Now, there were two major changes in order, which were: a) An escalated mess fee, due to GST and a hike in the base price, and b) A system wherein all the mess fee is directed only towards BLD, irrespective of whether it is consumed.

Much of the concern, and rightly so, was about the latter. The base price hike, as acknowledged, was justifiable since it was the first in three years. As for the second change, there were a couple of glaring concerns surrounding it. Had it been implemented, it would have given rise to the following consequences. Firstly, the mess fee would be redeemable only on BLD, considerably reducing  (read: completely eliminating) our choice of foods to choose from (unless we pay by other means). To put it in layman’s terms, we would no more be in control of the way we spend our own money. As ridiculous a statement that is, there is more to follow. Another implication of the groundbreaking proposed policy, was that we would lose money for every meal (BLD) we don’t eat.

The primary reason given by the administration for altering the system was as follows: “The vendor will get a minimum guarantee for the number of plates he cooks and reduces his losses”. It doesn’t seem like a lot of thought had gone into the imprudent strategy adopted for attaining the vendor’s “minimum guarantee”. The right way of going about this would be to lure students to eat the regular BLD by serving delectable meals of superior quality. It is absurd to make students pay the price for meals they miss, considering that a) Some may have classes/other commitments during meal timings , and b) A majority of the students from in and around the NCR area spend their weekends at home.

13/07/2017: After several meetings between the Student Council and the administration, the much anticipated verdict was delivered. It seems to be an outcome that indicates that student concerns have been taken into account. The mail sent by the Mess Committee highlights two changes to the older system that will be in effect: a) Dhaba/A-la-carte kiosks will not be functional during lunch timings on working days, and b) Items which do not fall under the 18% taxation (MRP items), will have to be paid for separately, by other means. The justification given for a), is that the mess would be able to “handle the peak hour rush more efficiently”. In a way, this seems fair, given that the mess does have problems with short-staffing. As for b), I would let the economics pundits look into it.

One positive that we can take away from this issue is the keenness of students to debate university policies that affect us on a widespread scale. This is a quality that we, as students, should look forward to cultivate and build upon, as it helps augment the student-admin relationship. It is important that there exists an ongoing dialogue between the students and the administration, for it will induce a sense of belonging in the former, while enabling the latter to make well-informed, student-centric decisions. The prevalence of a healthy culture of analysing and discussing university policies is a key factor, on the students’ part, in enabling this dialogue to flourish. The result that emerged in the mess issue is a testament to that.

It is a relief to see that this issue has been put to rest on a positive note. A ton of credit goes to the Mess Committee, Student Council and the administration for holding prolonged discussions to comprehensively analyse the matter in hand, and coming up with a plausible solution. Although the outcome is a favourable one, the manner in which it was arrived at is a bit upsetting. When a major decision such as this is being made, it would be befitting to have the student council play a prominent role in the decision making process. Considering this particular issue, the student council was not involved until after the decision was made, which makes it a lot more complex and laborious to incorporate student opinions. Going forward, we hope that the students (vis-a-vis the student council) are empowered with a greater role in university policymaking. There is not a glimmer of doubt that such a role calls for enormous responsibility, but that is precisely what the student council is formulated to handle. In addition to that, another bigger goal would be to have the students engage with more such university policies, irrespective of the magnitude or reach of its implications.

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Ram Smaran Suresh



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